As soon as I told my friends that I was thinking of moving to Tiraspol, they all immediately began joking that I was “coming out of the closet” as a Communist. Even my wife bought me a copy of the Communist Manifesto last year because of my “love” for Communism.
But here’s the thing – I really am not a Communist.
First of all, I barely understand it (I tried reading Antonio Gramsci and my eyes glazed over). I can’t articulate even its most fundamental tenets. And I’ve read Solzhenitsyn enough times to know that a lot of truly horrific atrocities were committed by Communist governments.
But yeah, I finally get why everyone thinks I’m some kind of Communist, even though I’m not.
Going Through the Stacks
I’ve spent the past year and a half poring through just about anything I could get my hands on that related to the (modern) history of the Republic of Moldova and Pridnestrovie (PMR or “Transnistria”), whether that be newspaper articles, doctoral dissertations, white papers, think tank reports, or government propaganda.
I started with the “easy” stuff, that which is written in English, and then went through endless reams of Romanian/Moldovan stuff, and then finally delved into the much more difficult Russian and Ukrainian analyses. I’ve read everything from wild accusations about book burnings here in Tiraspol (never happened) to tendentiously tedious committee reports, court records (reading the ECHR website for too long will cause blindness if you don’t watch out), and legislative bills.
And through it all, I’ve noticed that just about everything can be separated into two different piles: those things written from a nationalist perspective and those written from an internationalist perspective.
State vs. Nation
Three years ago, I began to explore these concepts in my article State vs. Nation. But since then, I’ve come to see that just about every political situation can be viewed through one of two lenses – the “nationalist” or “internationalist” lens.
Nationalism or populism believes that, for each country, there can be only one language, only one culture, and only one religion. Internationalism, on the other hand, believes that a country can still form a single identity yet embrace multiple languages, cultures, and religions.
For example, the infamous Brexit vote of 2016 was largely seen by voters as either being populist (the “Leave” side) or internationalist (“Remain”). The populists want Britain to be a country where everyone has to speak one language, for example, while British internationalists embrace a diversity of languages.
Right now, India is undergoing a titanic struggle between those who support Prime Minister Modhi’s nationalist policies and those who prefer the multicultural, multi-religious (internationalist) policies of the country’s founder, Mahatma Gandhi.
And so on and so forth. No matter where you look around the world, people either believe that their country should be home to only one culture, religion, and language or they believe that diversity is beneficial.
In Europe, right from the very beginning, Communism was 100% on the side of “internationalism.” Every single founder, philosopher, and contributor to the early Communist movements fully embraced the idea that Communism was something meant to be international and for all peoples.
Never once did Lenin (or Trotsky, Stalin, et al) advocate any kind of special “Russian-ness” to Communism or say that Communism could only be authentic if it was disseminated in the Russian language.
The organization “Comintern” (literally “Communist International”) was dedicated to spreading Communism around the world, not creating some kind of Russian-led Communist empire where the planet would be encouraged/forced to speak Russian and adopt Russian cultural values.
Fascism, on the other hand, has always been “nationalist.” In fascist Spain (1939-1975), there could only be one language – Spanish, and others like Basque, Galician, and Catalan were severely repressed. Likewise, there could only be one religion in fascist Italy (Catholicism) and one language in fascist Germany (“High German” as opposed not just to foreign languages but all of the regional German dialects/variants).
That’s why Ceausescu’s transformation is often misunderstood, I think. When he took power in 1965, he was the very epitome of a “good” Communist. He supported the Magyar Autonomous Region (Szeklyland). He supported his Communist neighbor states. And he ensured Romania’s continuing participation in the various international Communist organizations (including the Warsaw Pact).
In 1968, however, he transformed into a nationalist, even though he continued to call himself a Communist. He defied the Soviet Union when they invaded Prague. He essentially withdrew Romania from the Warsaw Pact. He abolished all autonomous regions in Romania and began implementing highly offensive nationalist policies such as renaming the city of Cluj to Cluj-Napoca, appending the name of a nearby farm in Ancient Roman days (Napocensis) to the city, a name that still stands today.
His nationalist policies were so out of line with the internationalist bent of (Soviet) Communism that Brezhnev personally chided him for it during a meeting in 1976. But Ceausescu didn’t care.
Ceausescu had come to the conclusion that being a nationalist was the best way to stay in power, and so he spent untold millions of dollars making movies and writing poems, stories, and songs that supported a deeply nationalist mythology in which Romania (envisioned as a contiguous stretch of land from Serbia in the west to Ukraine in the east) is a place for Romanians, and only for Romanians.
300,000 Wide and 50 Deep
Ceausescu certainly didn’t invent Romanian nationalism, of course. That “honor” probably goes to Ion Oarga, Marcu Giurgiu, and Vasile Nicola, popularly known as “Horea, Closca, and Crisan,” who essentially were three terrorists living in what was then the Hapsburg Empire.
After initially trying to use diplomacy to address the oppression of Romanian peasants in Transylvania, they then led an uprising that killed at least 4,000 civilians, most (but not all) of them ethnic Hungarians, simply because they were not both ethnic Romanian and (Romanian) Orthodox Christians.
And then there were the nationalist revolutions of 1848 (initially somewhat separate Moldovan and Wallachian movements that then merged into a united “Romanian” movement) and so on and so forth, right up to the openly fascist period of the Iron Guard (1930s) and Hitler’s bootlicker, “Marshal” Ion Antonescu, during World War II.
In other words, Ceausescu had a rich legacy of nationalism to build on. And this nationalist rhetoric was beamed into Soviet Moldova for at least 15 years before the Soviet Union came to an end.
Therefore, by the time Moldova’s capital was rocked by the largest protest in its history (🇷🇴) in 1989, it probably seemed “self-evident” to Romanian-speaking Moldovans that they were destined to be part of “Greater Romania” and that everyone in the country needed to speak, read, and write in the national language (aka Moldovan/Romanian).
Obviously, not everyone agreed. And the opposing forces (which were, in no way, limited to people living east of the Dniester River) made it crystal clear, time and time again, that they were opposed to this nationalism, not because they wanted to impose/retain a different kind of nationalism (i.e. “Russification”), but because they preferred the internationalist way of life under the Soviet Union.
That support for internationalism was literally what was written on the side of the tanks used by PMR forces during the 1992 war. It’s also exactly why the very first referendum held in December 1989 in the city of Ribnita (now PMR) specifically validated the need for three official languages.
And not once since then has PMR wavered from both its three official language policy or its embracing of the 54 different indigenous cultures which live in this small country.
The Purity Test
Again, not all nationalist movements are “pure” in the sense that some nationalists support one official language in their country but are tolerant of religious diversity.
Likewise, not all “internationalists” embrace all religions. For instance, here in Tiraspol, Jehovah’s Witnesses are very closely monitored and not allowed to proselytize.
But still, once you see that things are generally seen through the lens of “nationalism” versus “internationalism,” a lot of things start to make sense, especially in this part of the world.
The Story Romania Tells Itself
Romania, of course, is deeply nationalist, almost comically so. Ceausescu’s and Antonescu’s and Codreanu’s policies have never been repudiated. Many politicians on all “sides of the aisle” in Romania regularly support these men and the ideologies that they espoused.
And all this bleeds over to the Republic of Moldova where the Romanian-speaking elite controls the narrative. As far as they are concerned, Moldova is just an eastern province of Romania, and there’s no such thing as (a separate) Moldovan culture.
But Moldova has far fewer nationalist “Romanians” than anyone likes to admit, which is why the current president is Igor Dodon, and the dominant party is the (very internationalist) Socialists.
Once you realize that seeing things through a nationalist lens is how the politics in Romania (and the Romanian-language politics in Moldova) is framed, it becomes abundantly clear why Pridnestrovie is constantly being attacked for certain things that it does.
Over and over, you’ll see nationalists like Ion Iovcev accuse PMR of trying to “Russify” this country. That’s because he sees his struggle as an attempt to “Romanian-ify” this land, so anyone opposing that must be doing so for nationalist reasons as well.
Likewise, Jews are the target of a lot of nationalists’ ire because Jews (generally) support internationalist positions. The “misdeeds” of the Jews are always framed in a nationalist context, i.e. Jews are doing whatever they are doing (controlling the press, banks, movies, etc.) because Jews supposedly want to “Judaize” everyone and put Jews in charge and enforce Jewish laws and make everyone subservient to Jews.
And the same exact thing goes for Muslims. From a nationalist perspective, Muslims are never just believers of a different religion. Instead, Muslims are always depicted as wanting to “impose sharia law” and force everyone to convert to Islam.
And that’s really why people think I’m a Communist even though I’m really not. It’s because I believe diversity is good whether that’s diverse cultures, diverse languages, or diverse religions.
Therefore, if I oppose nationalism (which I do), I must, therefore, be an agent of Gypsies, Jews, Muslims, Communists, and/or Russians (of which I am none of the above) simply because that’s the only acceptable explanation (for a nationalist) for why someone would ever oppose nationalism.
In other words, anyone who opposes nationalism must be a supporter of a rival nation, which is bullshit.
Diversity Is the Key to Life
I don’t support PMR because people here speak Russian or because the government gets support from the Russian Federation or because the streets are named after Communist luminaries. I support it precisely because ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity is openly embraced as a good thing.
And I support diversity not because it’s in the Communist Manifesto (which I haven’t read yet). I support it for precisely the same reasons that I regularly advocated for the independence of gypsy culture in Romania. Diversity in any ecosystem leads to greater health for everyone.
That’s now a proven fact, at least in terms of the physical world. Any patch of land that is more biodiverse will survive longer and produce stronger, more productive lifeforms. And I believe the exact same is true for a country.
Whereas a “monoculture” or one language, one religion, one acceptable way of doing things, leads to the same problems that occur in agriculture when monoculture farming practices are practiced – weaker, less resilient plants that are more susceptible to disease, illness, and attack.
I’d contend that the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Countries with more than one official language tend to be happier places to live. The people there tend to get along better with less civil unrest.
Of course, that’s not universally true, but consider the policies of places like Saudi Arabia (only one form of Islam is permitted and Jews aren’t even allowed to set foot in the country), North Korea (one language, one “religion” – Juche), Equatorial Guinea (only Spanish(!) is permitted and only one political party), Azerbaijan (one party, one religion) and Turkey (Kurds are officially called “lesser Turks” and there was an ethnic cleansing of the Greek and Armenian populations) and you’ll see that “monocultures” aren’t very nice countries at all.
Whereas Switzerland (four official languages), Canada (two), Belgium (two), Sweden (two), New Zealand (two) and Singapore (four) are all regularly deemed to be among the best places in the world to live.
I spent 10 long years living in Cluj (Romania), and I still love that city. And the part I loved about it the most was precisely that it embraced diversity, whether that was foreign university students (which number in the thousands), tourists (hundreds of thousands every year), the indigenous Hungarian population, or its strongly supportive stance towards LGBTQI people (including gay clubs, pride parades, and gay film festivals).
I then moved to Chisinau, where every Romanian speaker I met (keeping in mind that I speak Romanian) was an ardent nationalist, something that disgusted me deeply. It was only when I started meeting some Russian speakers that I began to feel even a tiny bit comfortable, not because of some kind of cultural/linguistic affinity but because most Russian speakers share my “internationalist” viewpoint.
Therefore, it was only when I got to Tiraspol that I started to feel like I could breathe again. And it’s precisely for the same reason that I loved Cluj so much – people embrace diversity here.
There’s not even a shred of some kind of “nationalist” policy to “Russify” people or a “cultural genocide” being perpetrated against Romanian people. Hell, I went on national TV and said that I was a Romanian in my heart, and I’ve spoken to officials in two different ministries in the Moldovan/Romanian language, and I have universally been treated exceedingly well here by absolutely everybody (as has my wife).
And until you understand that, you will never, ever be able to understand either (the Republic of) Moldovan politics or why Pridnestrovie is thriving so well despite a literal army of propagandists hell-bent on destroying this place simply because it opposes nationalism as a matter of principle.